April 1996



Involvement by general managers in information technology issues is lacking.

A large knowledge gap exists between general managers and technology managers in government, according to a new study conducted by the Strategic Computing and Telecommunications Program at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. That knowledge gap has resulted in ineffective leadership in federal information technology programs, the study says.

"New information technology applications entail organizational changes that cannot be implemented by technical experts alone, but instead require strong partnerships between IT managers and general managers," says Jerry Mechling, director of the Kennedy School program. "To create partnerships needed for effective IT leadership, this knowledge gap needs to be substantially reduced by opening communications and building relationships."

The eight-year research project, which was done in collaboration with IBM's Institute for Electronic Government, involved interviewing 418 executives in federal, state and local governments throughout the United States and Canada. Answers to the study's 150 questions revealed that general managers are perceived-even by themselves-as having inadequate knowledge of information technology issues. IT managers were perceived as having inadequate knowledge of strategic and operational issues.

"As information technology grows hugely more cost effective, it is used not only for incremental changes such as automating pre-existing work flows-payroll, finance, inventory management-but for quantum changes such as inventing new work flows," says Mechling. "Difficult and important applications, such as Internet services, require general managers to be more involved in IT leadership."

The study found that while information technology projects with the least confusion and conflict can be implemented via standard project management techniques, others require special efforts to clarify objectives or negotiate with opponents. But today's IT leadership, the study concluded, too often focuses on technical and economic feasibility-ignoring the soft issues of behavioral feasibility.

"Technology leaders need to invest in the right amount of IT-related learning," says Tom Fletcher, associate director of the Kennedy School's Strategic Computing and Telecommunications Program. "In rapidly changing environments, front-line and senior managers need to become aggressively involved in educating individuals and teams, in benchmarking against world-class IT performers, and in experimenting with networked work flows and organizations."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.